The monster in the closet
When I was a child, I always checked my closet before I went to bed and then closed the door so if anything was in there it couldn’t get out. I guess I didn’t think that whatever monster was in there could turn the doorknob. But somewhere along the line, that closet became a safe place for me to hide. I would do things in there that I didn’t want anyone to see. Figuratively, I stayed in there for most of my life.
Living in the closet is no way to live. When I joined the Army I was 29 years old. I knew I was gay but I wasn’t out except to other people that I knew were gay. I wasn’t out to my family or straight friends. I didn’t think it was any of their business. I didn’t realize that it was part of who I was and therefore relevant to everything. I didn’t know why the Army asked or why they cared, and I didn’t think it would affect my performance so I didn’t feel the need to tell them.
Looking back, I’d have to say that it did affect my performance as a leader. I was afraid to connect with anyone. I was afraid to get to know them because I didn’t want them to know me. As a leader, I have to know what makes my soldiers tick. I have to know what motivates them. I have to get them to trust me. They won’t trust someone who is totally unapproachable, which I was. I expected them to follow me because of the bars on my shoulders, not because they trusted me.
I could say that society forced me to be in the closet, and I could say that the military forced me to stay there. But if I take responsibility for my own life, I have to admit that it was my choosing. I didn’t know any better, so I’m not blaming myself, but I did have choices. I wasn’t willing to make them.
Staying in the closet is painful. It’s safe and it’s painful. The closet is full of self-doubt, self-loathing, and fear. If you think that being gay is a choice, then you’re sadly mistaken. No one chooses to be gay. It would be like saying that you chose to be born with brown skin.
The Army would have been much better off allowing people to be who they were. I think they’re just starting to realize that. People are better off when they’re not busy trying to be something that they’re not. I always had the thought in the back of my head that I had to be careful what I said and who I said it to. I couldn’t talk about my girlfriend. I had to be careful of being seen with her. I went to every social event by myself. To all outside eyes, I was single and yet I was not. I couldn’t brag about how amazing my girlfriend was or share what we did over the weekend. I was closed off and always protective.
I could have been a General. I had the ability and the drive. There are gay Generals now, so it would have been possible. There was something keeping me from being all I could be. Partly it was the military’s stance on homosexuality and partly it was me holding myself back because I knew that I wasn’t good enough to be in the Army as me. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’m good enough to be anything I want to be.
I’m glad that the policy has changed so that service members can now serve openly. Some day everyone will realize that we’re all the same, regardless of our sexual orientation, the color of our skin, our socioeconomic status, or anything else. We’re not there yet. Now that I’m out of the closet, I can be a part of the solution and that’s why I’m doing the Restore Honor Ride.
If you’re in the closet, please come out. We need each other. I’ve been where you are and I’m here for you.
Please leave your comments below.